What’s The Difference Between Foliage & Filler For Bouquets?

purple salvia in the garden

The workhorses of any bouquet or arrangement are foliage and fillers. They’re so important that in the cut flower world the general recommendation is to plant at least 50% of your garden space just with these two types of plants.

It’s easy to lump foliage and filler into the same category, but there are some differences that you should keep in mind when planning your cutting garden and selecting seeds to sow.

The difference between foliage and filler for cut flowers is that foliage refers mainly to plants that add greenery and texture such as eucalyptus, sage, dusty miller, and bupleurum. Filler refers to small flowers that provide color, volume, and structure such as statice, celosia, and scabiosa.

There are so many examples of foliage and filler. They grow as annuals, perennials, shrubs, and grasses. Heck, you could fill your whole garden with just foliage and filler because there is so much variety.

For this post, we’ll just be focusing on annuals because they’re much easier to start from seed at home and the start-up cost of seeds is much lower than buying perennials and potted plants. They can be planted in large groupings of the same type, making it easy to harvest large amounts for making bouquets.

FoliageFiller
Typically stems, stalks,
and leaves
Small or medium-sized
flowers
Green, silver,
mahogany, sage colors
All possible colors
Can be foraged from
weeds, shrubs
Usually grown
intentionally
Perennial, annual,
shrub, tree options
Many annual options,
some perennials

Foliage: the supporting greenery

Just what it sounds like, foliage adds a green structural element to a bouquet or arrangement. It provides the shape and structure and then other flowers fill in the space with color and other textures.

Unlike filler, foliage relies heavily on its leaves and stalks to prodive visual interest to a bouquet or arrangement. The leaves may be fuzzy like dusty miller or textured like shiso and mint. Others may have variegated leaves with different shades of green.

Some foliage is even wonderfully scented, such as sage and basil, adding another element to your arrangement. Eucalyptus is one of the most popular scented foliage to pair with other flowers.

Foliage can be used as single stems spread throughout an arrangement, such as eucalyptus. They help draw the eye from one side of the arrangement to the other. Others such as shiso provide broad, textured leaves to form the base of a bouquet, and can be sprinkled throughout.

Top foliage recommendations to start from seed

  • Eucalyptus: Wonderfully scented, eucalyptus’ silvery coin-shaped leaves add structure. The stalks also make excellent dried material for arrangements and wreaths.
  • Sage: Soft, textured leaves add a dreamy, romantic look.
  • Dusty Miller: Similar to sage, dusty miller is soft and silvery. The lacey leaves also have a great vase life.
  • Bupleurum: Lime-green leaves provide bulk to any arrangement, and little yellow flowers add charm.
  • Shiso: Broad, textured leaves can provide green or mahogany backdrops.
  • Mint: With scents ranging from orange to apple, mint can be trailed through any arrangement. Make tea with your leftovers!
  • Bells of Ireland: This one does double duty, as it creates strong, tall stalks that are perfect as foliage. It also has disc shaped blooms to add interest, all in a mint green color.

Filler: the supporting flowers

These flowers play the best friend of the leading lady flowers. After all, every blush dahlia star needs a burgundy scabiosa sidekick. Filler flowers mix with the foliage, adding more volume, color, and whimsy to the bouquet.

Whereas foliage tends to be different shades of silver and green, filler flowers are available in every color of the rainbow. As such, they are wonderful compliments to the large focal flowers of any bouquet or arrangement and can make up a solid half of any flower arrangement.

Filler flowers also add of visual interest through their various shapes. Some flowers have small sprays of blossoms such as statice or phlox to little pincushion shapes like scabiosa or bachelor buttons.

Top filler recommendations to start from seed

  • Scabiosa: Sweet pincushion shapes on long stems are perfect for tucking throughout a bouquet.
  • Celosia: Available as feathery plumes or crinkled mounds, the vibrant colors of celosia add flare.
  • Bachelor buttons: Another light and feathery option for summer bouquets.
  • Yarrow: The umbrella shaped blooms of yarrow can be used in fresh bouquets but are also fantastic for drying.
  • Statice: These blooms remind me of little scrub brushes with a spray of blooms. They’re also excellent for dried arrangements.
  • Feverfew: Like little daisies, feverfew adds charm to any arrangement or bouquet.
  • Salvia: Small spikes peppered with small purple, red, or white blooms add texture.

How To use Both Foliage and Filler in an arrangement

For an amazing example of how important it is to have both foliage and filler in your cut flower garden, watch this video of LaRonda of Root Design Company constructing a summer arrangement.

You’ll see how she uses foliage and fillers such as basil, sage, celosia, phlox, and zinnias to support her focal dahlias. The foliage she uses has the soft leaves of sage mixed with dainy spikes of basil. Her filler flowers are white and cream to compliment the peach and coral colors of the focal flowers.

The result is a balanced, voluminous arrangement full of color and romance.

As you plan out your garden for the next growing season, make sure to reserve some space among your star flowers to plant foliage and fillers. Each one is different enough that by having some of both categories you’ll have all the material you need to transform your fresh cut bouquets.

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